Can the center hold?
That was the question I posed in my previous column on this topic. But there is an even more important question: Can we hold to the center?
I reflect on that concern and can’t help but think of Elizabeth Willing Powell. It was she, who, according to James McHenry, a delegate to the convention that would write the American Constitution in 1787, put a question to Benjamin Franklin as he emerged from the deliberations: “Well, Dr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
“A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin shot back, according to McHenry’s notes.
Now, the issue is even greater. This time the question is posed to the Throne of Heaven itself, from whence come the worldview and values that are sought after not only by the United States but the whole of Western civilization and all other societies that seek the virtues of the Kingdom of Heaven.
What kind of government have you given us?
The answer comes back: “A Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17-18).
Can we “keep” or hold to such a Kingdom?
In this turbulent age, the very foundations are trembling, and it seems many cannot hold to the center of that Kingdom, and the primary institutions whereby its attributes are ministered in the world: the Family, Church, and Education.
As I write, I think of a terrifying wintry night decades ago. I was crossing the North Atlantic on a Dutch freighter. The chill seas and winds were battering the vessel. If anyone dared go out on the deck he or she had to know and hold tightly to the structures that would hold fast because they were embedded in and joined to the whole structure of the ship.
I remember that night and survey the condition of the world we inhabit now. We still will be tempted to ask: Can the center hold in the socio-cultural tempests of our time? But as we feel the winds pulling at us, we will be driven to wonder: Can we hold on to the center that is joined to the mighty structure of the Kingdom of Heaven?
The evidence is not promising.
As for the Church, a recent Christian Post headline and story described the sad situation as the report related findings of Pew Research: Church Attendance Stagnates Amid Return to In-Person Services. The article went on to note that only 27% of those interviewed by Pew Research had resumed church attendance.
Families, so vital in stabilizing individuals, are being ripped apart because of a divorce rate that exceeds 40%.
Education is crucial for imparting knowledge about history and the intellectual necessities and skills for a quality life. Schools are being thrashed in the stormy currents of our day. Some even wonder if public education will survive as they push through the opposing waves of Critical Race Theory, genderism, and sexual behavior. Parents must consider whether schools where they send their children will actually groom them for abuse. The thought is so far-fetched it seems impossible — but there it is.
My 10-day ride across the Atlantic that winter decades ago, harrowing as it was, was nothing compared to another. Desperate passengers aboard the Titanicsearched for lifeboats sturdy enough to keep them afloat as the big ship sank. If they were able to scramble aboard one of those craft, the passengers would have to find something on which to take hold lest they be washed back into the icy sea.
So, the issue for us now is not only to wonder if the center can hold in our rough passage through time and history, but also whether we are holding tightly to the center of strength and stability and teaching our families what it is and how to lay hold of it.
The Bible tells us much about holding on that is especially relevant in a heaving age like ours. In light of the suddenness of His coming, the Lord says, “hold on to what you have” (Revelation 3:11).
The Apostle Paul had earlier warned that the Spirit of God “explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4:1). Thus the Bible, from the Old Testament to the New, urges repeatedly for God’s people to “hold on”— and help all those who depend on us to share in that stability.
We noted in the last column that some 52% of Americans suffer from anxiety. Many search desperately to grab something that they can lay hold upon that will stabilize them midst the heaping waves of chaos in our time.
At some point our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren may ask us: “What kind of world has your generation left us?”
Our answer to them hopefully could be: “a world under the governance of the Prince of Peace, King of Kings, and Lord of lords ... if you can keep it."
That means that we must hold on to the strong center ourselves and instruct our progeny on the importance and skills of holding on.
Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, daily newspaper editor, White House and Congressional aide. He served 18 years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Henley is author or co-author of more than 25 books, including God and Churchill, co-authored with Sir Winston Churchill's great grandson, Jonathan Sandys. Henley's latest book is Who will rule the coming 'gods'? The looming spiritual crisis of artificial intelligence.